Thursday, May 24, 2007

Who Won The Iraq Spending Showdown?

Much of the this morning's coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan war spending bill focuses on who won and who lost the showdown. Some reports conclude that Republicans may have won this round even if their victory is not complete and may be short-lived. The AP says "Democrats may have lost their fight with President Bush over a timetable for ending the war in Iraq," but "they won billions of dollars for farm aid, hurricane victims, veterans and health care for poor children." President Bush "vetoed a $124 billion war funding bill containing $21 billion in unrequested funds," but the White House negotiators "signed off on a $120 billion measure containing four-fifths of the additional money." Indeed, although one reason President Bush cited for his veto of the first Iraq war spending bill was the inclusion of "extraneous" funds by congressional Democrats, the compromise he is expected to sign includes billions of dollars of non-Iraq related funding. The Wall Street Journal says the "nearly $120 billion Iraq-war spending bill headed toward the House floor after chemical and airline industries won concessions and Democrats divided up billions of dollars in added funding for domestic programs." The White House "has blessed the overall structure, which promises President Bush $94.7 billion in defense money and a relatively free hand in directing the war through Sept. 30." The Washington Times notes the domestic spending "includes about $9 billion for veterans affairs and defense measures and about $8 billion for Hurricane Katrina recovery, health care for poor children and agricultural programs."

The Christian Science Monitor sees another silver lining for Democratic leaders, who "will have met their own Memorial Day deadline for funding the troops, without requiring their members to take a high-profile vote on the combined war-funding package."

But Democrats, who can cite the historical precedent of Vietnam to suggest their strategy to force an exit of US troops from Iraq will gradually gain strength in the future, face a liberal base angered at the opening round loss. Yesterday, they were struggling to explain their strategy to their allies in the anti-war movement and to liberal lawmakers who are expected to vote against the bill raising the specter of a fracture in the Democratic coalition. The New York Times reports "the idea that many Democrats would be left on the losing side in a consequential vote has exposed a sharp divide within the party, drawn scorn from antiwar groups, confused the public and frustrated the party rank and file." The Chicago Tribune says Rep. Maxine Waters, "a leader of the Democratic anti-war effort, warned that Democrats who vote in favor of the measure are sure to face political peril." The Washington Times says the bill "represents a painful defeat for Democratic leaders, who took control of Congress while promising to end the unpopular war in Iraq." The Politico notes "anti-war activists vowed they will have long memories about the deal Democratic leaders struck with the Bush administration this week on Iraq war funding, warning that they will exact retribution from lawmakers in both parties in 2008." The Washington Post, in fact, reports "rallied its 3.2 million members in an e-mail alert yesterday morning that declared that 'every single Democrat must oppose this bill.'" Roll Call notes Rep. Jim McGovern criticized the spending agreement and said, "Maybe we can pull off a miracle and defeat the goddamn thing."

Democratic lawmakers yesterday took to the airwaves to make the case for the compromise bill. Rep. Rahm Emanuel said on MSNBC's Hardball, "The President said no to timelines and we said no to a blank check. ... It doesn't have the timeline, something we wanted. But it has benchmarks, something he didn't want." Sen. Joseph Biden said on MSNBC's Hardball, "We need 17 Republicans to change their mind [to have a veto-proof majority in the Senate]." Rep. Jim Moran, on MSNBC's Tucker, said, "This is a Pyrrhic victory for the Republican Party and the President. They want to make it clear to the world that they own this war, and if that's what they want, they've achieved it."

John Edwards, on the other hand, assailed the legislation. He said on CNN's The Situation Room that what congressional Democrats "should do is continue to submit funding bills supporting the troops to the President with a timetable for withdrawal. And if the President...continues to veto those bills, it's the President who's deciding he's not going to fund the troops."

Critics Deride Bush's Bin Laden Speech

In a commencement address at the US Coast Guard Academy, President Bush on Wednesday used declassified intelligence detailing the threat posed by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to justify ongoing US involvement in Iraq. The Connecticut Post reports that as "anti-war protesters rallied outside the gates of the US Coast Guard Academy," the President "told the 228 graduates that America is really fighting Osama bin Laden and his terror network, and that defeat in Iraq would shift that battle to America." The Hartford Courant notes Bush "spoke at length about al-Qaeda and said 'We must defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq.'" In the speech, says USA Today, Bush recounted how al-Qaeda "still wants to use" Iraq "as a base to overthrow other governments and 'launch new attacks on America and other nations.'"

However, critics were not swayed by the dangers Mr. Bush extolled, and instead viewed the speech as part an ongoing pattern by the Administration to selectively leak classified information. The Chicago Tribune, for example, says Bush has "repeatedly...declassified select snippets of US intelligence to justify the war in Iraq." ABC World News says the President's language "was stunning, painting the threat to American soil by Iraq based terror groups as dire and immediate." NBC Nightly News said "the President's message and his evidence are now under attack as well." The President's message was "dire," and "the disclosure of this intelligence now appeared designed to bolster the President's argument that terrorists in Iraq will follow US troops home." But the "political reality is that Iraq has undermined the President's credibility on terrorism. Some Democrats who want to end the war argue there is no war on terror at all."

The Washington Post says Bush's speech "was part of a White House effort in recent weeks to portray the violence in Iraq as primarily a function of al-Qaeda, deemphasizing the internal divisions within Iraq in the apparent hope of regaining political support for an endeavor that has become deeply unpopular with the US public." The New York Times notes Bush's comments "brought immediate criticism from Democrats and some counterterrorism experts," and the Los Angeles Times says critics "allege that the White House tends to declassify documents whenever it is politically advantageous." Likewise, the Financial Times says Democrats "pounced on the speech," while the AP reports, "Much of the intelligence information Bush cited in his speech described terrorism plots already revealed." The Washington Times reports Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "cited a statement by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, who in February told the Senate Armed Services Committee that an al Qaeda attack 'most likely would be planned and come out of the leadership in Pakistan.'" Bloomberg, meanwhile, reports Brookings Institution scholar Thomas Mann said in an email that Bush's "record of selective declassification of documents to bolster administration positions has understandably made the public deeply skeptical of such pronouncements."

Bush Brings Up Vietnam The Providence Journal notes Bush said in his speech, "Many critics compare the battle in Iraq to the situation we faced in Vietnam. ... There are many differences between the two conflicts but one stands out above all: The enemy in Vietnam had neither the intent nor the capability to strike our homeland. The enemy in Iraq does." The New York Times reports that "even in trying to contrast the two wars, invoking the Vietnam analogy was unusual for Mr. Bush. It is a comparison he typically addresses only in response to questions."

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One More Headache For Gonzales

Monica Goodling, a former top aide to embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, testified before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday, under "a grant of immunity from prosecution because she had invoked her 5th Amendment right not to incriminate herself," as the Los Angeles Times reports. ABC World News says Goodling "suggested" Gonzales "may have misled Congress regarding the controversial firing of eight US Attorneys." Goodling told the committee that "Gonzales discussed with her his role in the dismissals. Mr. Gonzales testified under oath that he had not talked to any potential witnesses." USA Today notes Goodling said she and Gonzales "had an 'uncomfortable' conversation her last week at work in which he gave his account of dismissing eight US attorneys. 'He laid out for me his general recollection...of some of the process regarding the replacement of the US attorneys,' said Monica Goodling, the department's former White House liaison." Gonzales "asked for her reaction, but Goodling said she didn't respond because she realized they could be called to testify before Congress. 'It made me a little uncomfortable,'" she told the panel.

The AP says "Goodling's dramatic story...brought questions from panel members about whether he had tried to align her story with his and whether he was truthful in his own congressional testimony." But as McClatchy reports, in a statement late Wednesday, the Justice Department "said Gonzales 'has never attempted to influence or shape the testimony or public statements of any witness in this matter, including Ms. Goodling.'"

NBC Nightly News reported Goodling also said Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty "knew more than he admitted to Congress about the extent of White House involvement in all of this. McNulty denied that today, saying Goodling's testimony was wrong. And it was not supported by the records of document and testimony already given." In fact, the Washington Times notes Goodling "began her testimony by defending herself against a charge, reportedly made by Mr. McNulty to a Democratic senator, that she did not fully inform" McNulty "about White House involvement in the firings." Goodling said, "The allegation is false. I did not withhold information from the deputy."

The New York Times reports Goodling also said that "she regretted favoring applicants with Republican credentials for lower level prosecutor jobs or prestigious postings at Justice headquarters," which "could violate federal employment laws." However, she said that "even though she was the Justice Department's liaison to the White House, she did not play a significant role in the dismissals." The Minneapolis Star-Tribune says Goodling "acknowledged that, in some instances, she 'crossed the line' by allowing political considerations to play a role in filling civil service positions."

In the aftermath of the testimony, it was unclear how much damage it had done to Gonzales or to the White House. As the Financial Times notes this morning, "Goodling's testimony comes in advance of an expected Senate vote of no confidence in Mr Gonzales this week," and the Washington Post says her words raised "serious new accusations" against the Attorney General. And the Boston Globe reports critics said Goodling's "admission that she considered party affiliation when vetting candidates for civil service assistant prosecutor jobs added to a growing picture of politicization of the nation's law enforcement system under Gonzales." Judiciary Committee Democrat Rep. Artur Davis said on PBS' NewsHour, "I think we continue to have reasons to believe that these U.S. attorneys were fired because of, in some instances, political pressure from outside the department, and that the Department of Justice didn't give us the straight story."

But Roll Call says Goodling "failed to yield new clues as to why nine federal prosecutors were ousted in 2006," and the Chicago Tribune also states that "like other top Justice officials who testified previously, Goodling offered only a murky picture on how eight U.S attorneys were marked for dismissal last year." Indeed, the Dallas Morning News says Republicans trying "to show support for the beleaguered Mr. Gonzales...embraced Ms. Goodling as a sympathetic witness." Judiciary Committee Republican Rep. Dan Lungren said on PBS' NewsHour, "The Democrats expected to have some big bang coming out of this hearing today. ... It ended with a thud. The fact of the matter is, there is no illegality that has been presented with one iota of evidence with respect to the hiring or firing of these US attorneys."

First Trim For Immigration Deal

The Senate's 74-24 vote to significantly cut the size of the guest-worker program that would be created by the compromise immigration bill received no broadcast network coverage Wednesday evening, but the story is covered by most major daily newspapers. The Washington Post says the Senate "slashed the size" of the proposed program from as many as 600,000 laborers to just one-third that number, "dealing the first real blow to a fragile overhaul of the nation's immigration laws since it reached the Senate floor this week." Though the White House "had strongly opposed the amendment," offered by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, 27 Republicans supported it. The Los Angeles Times says the vote "was the first of several as Republicans try to stiffen the bill's provisions for legal and illegal immigrants and Democrats target a key Republican element of the bill that limits family-based immigration." Both the AP and McClatchy say in headlines that the Senate opted to "slash" the program. McClatchy also says Sen. Lindsey Graham, "one of the bill's sponsors, won easy passage of an amendment that would impose mandatory jail sentences for those who crossed the border illegally after being deported," while the Senate also approved an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein "to improve the treatment of more than 7,000 unaccompanied immigrant children who are taken into federal custody each year."

In contrast to the harsher headlines of some other newspapers, the Chicago Tribune titles its report "Senate OKs Tweaks To Immigration Bill." However, its lead is a bit sharper, saying the "fragile immigration bill weathered a series of legislative hits Wednesday." The Wall Street Journal says in its headline that the bill's business backers were "dealt a blow" by the passage of the Bingaman amendment. The US Chamber of Commerce and other groups had urged senators to reject the amendment.

The Los Angeles Times examines the point system for "quantitative factors" that the bill would create for immigrants seeking legal permanent residence in the US. The system would consider factors "including education, employment, English fluency and extended family. ... But as details emerge, the same businesses and legislators the formula was designed to reconcile have started picking it apart -- determined to either rewrite the formula to suit their needs or scrap it altogether." In a related item, the Christian Science Monitor writes that "one of the most contentious issues" in the debate over the bill is the point system's emphasis on "education, earnings level, or job skills" over family ties. The New York Times runs a feature on how immigrant families are reacting to the possible shift in priorities.

Lott Goes To Bat For Bill The other big immigration debate news is the emergence of Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott as a key Republican defender of the immigration agreement. The New York Times says the "No. 2 Republican in the Senate" made an "all-out pitch for support" of the immigration bill. Lott, who was not one of the 12 senators who hammered out the agreement, said, "Is this bill better than the current law? Without a doubt, yes. Are we going to have another opportunity to do this better next year or the next year? The answer is no. We've got to do it." Roll Call says Lott "jumped feet first into the immigration debate" with his remarks, "throwing his substantial support" behind the reform deal. The Washington Times says Lott "said he has told President Bush to be prepared to save their party from a bad immigration bill through his veto pen." Lott said, "He's got to be prepared to say to [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, 'If you come up with something that really makes a bad situation worse, I will veto it.' That is the ultimate weapon, and it has to be held in abeyance to keep the pressure on us to do this right."

Other lawmakers also weighed in on the legislation. North Dakota Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan said on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, "This so-called grand compromise, bipartisan, with the President -- it reminds me again that bad judgment and bad legislation are close relatives. This is a horrible piece of legislation." Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions said on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, "I think any good immigration program has to have some guest worker part of it." However, "I don't believe we should give people who come into our country illegally every single benefit we give to people who come legally. And, ultimately, this bill would do that, so I oppose it on that fundamental principle." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both Republicans, said opposition to the immigration bill in their state "is beginning to lessen as Georgians learn more about the measure and misconceptions are dispelled." California Republican Rep. Ed Royce said on MSNBC's Tucker, "The calls are running 1,000 to one against this bill. ... I would not be surprised if House Republicans didn't rally and defeat this bill with the help of a few Democrats who I expect will cross over because of the pressure from their districts and vote with the House Republicans." And in a USA Today op-ed, House Immigration Reform Caucus Chairman Brian Bilbray, also a California Republican, writes, "My office has been inundated with phone calls from constituents asking, 'What part of "illegal" don't senators understand?' You would think that Congress would learn from the failures of the past."

Richardson Now Opposes Bill Under the front-page headline "Hispanic Hopeful For '08 Confronts Immigration," the New York Times says that "of all the candidates running for president, none have weathered more crosscurrents of the immigration battle than Gov. Bill Richardson," whose mother is Mexican and who leads "a border state with the highest percentage of Hispanics in the country." Richardson "initially said he would support the immigration compromise," but yesterday said that "after reading it in detail, he had decided to oppose it, saying the measure placed too great a burden on immigrants."

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Clinton Hit By Iowa Gaffe

Sen. Hillary Clinton's relatively error-free presidential campaign yesterday suffered one of its first real gaffes. The Des Moines Register reports Clinton "was urged by a top campaign staffer this week to bypass the leadoff Iowa caucuses and focus her effort on other early nominating states." In a memo, deputy Clinton campaign manager Mike Henry said, "I believe we need a new approach to winning the Democratic nomination. This approach involves shifting the focus away from Iowa and running a campaign that is more focused on other early primary states and winning this new national primary." The Register adds the memo, "in which Henry advocates aiming for the powerful lineup of states scheduled to vote on Feb. 5, came out today just as Clinton's campaign was releasing its schedule for Clinton's planned visit to north central and northwest Iowa this weekend."

The AP reports that with aides fearing "backlash" from local Democrats, Clinton "denounced the memo hours after it leaked from her headquarters and played down an internal debate over campaign strategy." Clinton said, "I am unalterably committed to competing in Iowa." The Washington Post reports Clinton aides "scrambled late yesterday to control the fallout from" the leaked memo. Skipping Iowa "would be a stunning move for the presumed front-runner; it is usually lesser-known and poorly financed candidates who are forced to pick and choose their primary battles. Clinton campaign officials quickly dismissed any suggestion that she would pull out of the state, characterizing the memo as 'one person's opinion.'" Regardless of "the contents, part of the news was that the memo leaked at all: The Clinton campaign prides itself on being airtight, and any lapse is viewed as evidence of an internal power struggle."

Radio Iowa reported on its website that Clinton's Iowa campaign manager, said, "Senator Clinton and our campaign are unequivocally committed to competing here." Sen. Clinton is slated to "campaign in Iowa this weekend and plans return trips on the two following weekends."

Giuliani Targets Edwards On Terror

John Edwards yesterday denounced the term "global war on terror," sparking a sharp counterstroke from Rudy Giuliani, who has been working in recent weeks to firm up his image as a committed anti-terror warrior. The AP reports that Edwards yesterday "repudiated the notion that there is a 'global war on terror,' calling it an ideological doctrine advanced by the Bush administration that has strained American military resources and emboldened terrorists." In a "defense policy speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Edwards called the war on terror a 'bumper sticker' slogan Bush had used to justify everything from abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison to the invasion of Iraq."

Long Island Newsday reports that Giuliani yesterday "accused" Edwards "of being dangerously in denial about the dangers of global extremism, ripping the former senator after Edwards said the president's war on terror was little more than a 'bumper sticker.' 'If you think there's a global war on terror as a slogan for George Bush, you are not facing reality,' Giuliani said of Edwards," adding, "It kind of makes the point that I've been making over and over again, that the Democrats, or at least some of them, are in denial." Newsday notes, "Edward's speech, in Giuliani's hometown no less, allowed Giuliani to return to a favorite theme in recent weeks, that only the Republicans, and he in particular, understand the true nature of the terror threat, while the Democrats would return the country to being 'on defense' against terrorism. 'I guess this Democratic senator doesn't remember it -- bin Laden declared war on us,' Giuliani said. In contrast, Giuliani said of terrorists, 'I don't get fuzzy and romantic about it. I understand there are people in this world who want to come here and kill us.'" In a blog posting on the website of the New York Times, Marc Santora writes that Giuliani "found a useful foil in Ron Paul during the recent Republican debate, and now he's taking" on Edwards "to make his points on the national security front during an New Hampshire."

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Clinton, Rudy On Top In New Poll

A new poll out this morning from Zogby International shows Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton both expanding their leads in their respective primaries. Clinton leads the Democrats with 39%, followed by Barack Obama, 24%; and John Edwards, 11%; the remainder of the field is at 2% or less. The survey did not offer Al Gore as an option. In Zogby's late February survey, Clinton led Obama 33%-25%. On the GOP side, Giuliani leads with 26%, followed by John McCain, 13%; Mitt Romney, 10%; Fred Thompson, 10%; and Mike Huckabee, 4%, with the rest of the field at 3% or less. In the February survey, Giuliani led McCain 29%-20%. The poll was conducted nationally May 17-20.

In general election trial heats, Obama is by far the strongest Democratic contender, topping all major Republicans. Obama leads Giuliani, 48%-42%, McCain, 46%-43%, and Romney, 52%-35%. Clinton does less well Giuliani leads her 48%-43%, as does McCain, 47%-43%, although she tops Romney 48%-40%.

Advisor Says Edwards "Uncomfortable" Around Gays

The Washington Post reports Robert Shrum, "the veteran Democratic strategist who worked on John Edwards's 1998 Senate campaign in North Carolina," writes in his new memoir "No Excuses: Confessions of a Serial Campaigner" that Edwards once expressed discomfort with gays. Shrum "recalls asking Edwards at the outset of that campaign, 'What is your position, Mr. Edwards, on gay rights?'" Shrum says Edwards replied, "I'm not comfortable around those people," and the "candidate's wife, Elizabeth, told him: 'John, you know that's wrong.'" The Post adds Edwards spokesman Eric Schultz "says Shrum 'has a very casual relationship with the truth. Bob is obviously more interested in selling books than reporting honestly and accurately about what happened.'"

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